Plimpton Press, the famous printing house which occupies the sprawling industrial buildings between Lenox street and the railroad, provides jobs for some 800 to 900 people in highly skilled work who take home an annual payroll of three and a half million dollars.
These were among the little known facts related by Harry F. Howard, director and plant manager of the Plimpton Press, when he appeared as a guest speaker at the February meeting of the Norwood Chamber of Commerce Tuesday evening at Holman Hall.
Mr. Howard pointed out that Plimpton’s rate of pay is one of the highest in industry which means that Plimpton employees as a group pay more than the average In taxes and as a group cost the town less than average for services.
“We are a Union plant, and our labor relations are harmonious,” he asserted. “With few exceptions, our people feel that they are part of a team working for a common goal. There must be a good reason that over 20 of our people have been with us over 50 years, and over 180 have been with us over 25 years.”
As to problems with which the company must contend, Mr. Haoward stated that geographically Plimpton’s is poorly situated for distribution to many parts of the country. The employees of many of the company’s competitors do not have as high wage scales or as good working conditions as do Plimpton employees. Furthermore, Massachusetts is a high tax state . . . also, the company suffers a seasonal letdown in school book production in the late Fall.
These, and other problems, Mr. Howard went on, mean that the company can’t “take it easy but must work hard, as we should anyhow, and that profit margins will be low.”
“Nevertheless,” he continued, “we have had the satisfaction of being able to grow, to engage in an industry that contributes to the life of our country through its product, and to be part of a community of which we are proud and which we hope is proud of us.”
Mr. Howard prefaced his remarks with a brief history of Plimpton Press, and then, with the aid of an interesting exhibit traces the several operations required for the printing of a book from the time ¡the manuscript is set in type until the volume is fully bound.
In his remarks, Mr. Howard said in part:
“The Plimpton Press has long been a Norwood Institution. It was started by a man who grew up in the neighboring town of Walpole and it has always been owned and operated by men who came into the business as young men and made it their life work. The story of Herbert Plimpton’s founding of the business is interesting in this day of giant industries since he started in business with less money than is required to buy a second-hand car today. He was one of a family of seven children whose father and uncle ran a small iron foundry beside the Neponset River where the Plimptonvillc pond now is. His father was able to give his children a college education and most of the others went to college. H. M. however, after finishing the equivalent of high school at Williston Academy and working in the coal business for a year decided to learn a trade. He went to New York and became a bookbinder.
“Meanwhile George Ginn, Daniel Heath, and George Plimpton, H.M.’s older brother, had been operating as the successful school book publishing firm of Ginn and Heath. They felt the need of a dependable binder to do their work. Having learned his trade, Herbert Plimpton was anxious to get back to this locality and had found a bindery in Boston that could be bought for WCOO and was worth far more. He persuaded each of the three partners of Ginn and Heath to take a quarter interest with him in H. M Plimpton, and Co., and In 1882 the business was started at 111 Pearl street, Boston. The money Mr. Plimpton used to buy his quarterly interest is said to have come from the money his father had given him for his college education.
‘‘The company prospered from the start and soon Mr. Plimpton was able to buy out his partners and move to larger quarters on Beech street. Shortly thereafter the firm of Ginn and Heath split up. Mr, Ginn and George Plimpton continued the original company as Ginn and Co. and Mr. Heath established D. C. Heath and Co. Meanwhile Mr. Ginn had started a pressroom and small bindery and wanted to buy the Plimpton bindery in order to have a complete plant. Mr. Plimpton was glad to sell since he was anxious to buy the Bradley Bindery on Congress street. The change of plants took place and the former Plimpton plant became the Athenaeum Press, which later moved, to Cambridge land is now the Cuneo Press of N E.
“In 1894. Mr. Plimpton made his initial plans to move to Norwood. Mr. Berwick and Mr. Cushing were planning to move their plants and wanted a bindery to give them a complete operation. Plans fell through but Mr. Plimpton decided to come to Norwood on his own and in 1897 built the beginning of the present plant, the 4-story section between the tower and Guild street. At that time a press room was started. Growth was rapid and additions and new buildings were added every two or three years.
When the plant moved out from Boston in 1897, a part had stayed behind. Besides doing regular or edition bookbinding, Mr. Plimpton had started a deluxe hand bindery or extra bindery in 1892. This did not .move to Norwood until 1905 when the Congress Street plant was abandoned. To this point the Plimpton Press had done no composition or typesetting. In 1904 this lack was remedied by the purchase of the Hcintzmann Press of Boston, whose equipment was moved to Norwood. In 1919 an electrotype foundry was added and the Plimpton Press was able to take in a manuscript and deliver a book with all the processing done within four walls.
Many Norwoodites may fail to realize that the Plimpton Press does a national business. Our books are used everywhere. As a result, about 30 years ago it was apparent that we would have to have a plant in the middle west or books used in that area would be made by someone else more favorably located. To retain our share of the business, we established a plant in La Porte, Indiana. It Is smaller than the Norwood plant but has grown steadily. It has been a great asset to us in Norwood since we have been able to get the Eastern work of midwest publishes who were attracted by our La Porte plant.
“Perhaps this is a good place to end the historical part of my talk. Otherwise, it will be a very long evening. The stories of men such as Mr. Kendall of Kendall Mills, Mr. Galbraith of “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN”, Col. Palmer of Kingsport Press, our late President Mr. Mayo-Smith and many others, and events connected with the Plimpton Press could take hours.
“Although there are many people here who know something about publishing and book manufacturing, probably an explanation of just what we do will clear up a lot of misconceptions.
“In the first place publishing and printing or manufacturing are not the same. The publisher’s function is the task of bringing a book from the author to the public. He finds an author to write a book he thinks is needed or will sell or decides to publish a manuscript which has been submitted. He edits the manuscript. He decides on the physical appearance of the book, procures copy for illustrations if they «re to be used, and then turns the job over to us. We are processors or converters. We work on someone else’s product. We can’t make up goods for inventory. When times are dull, we have no material of our own to use, we don’t decide how many hooks to make. Our job is to lake the publisher’s manuscript and paper and make ready for his use and hold in our warehouse subject to his call a certain number of books. Meanwhile, salesmen employed by the publisher have been selling the books to stores, schools, etc. As orders are obtained, they are sent to us and we deliver the books to the designated destination Thus it is theoretically not even necessary for a publisher to handle a single finished book after the manuscript leaves his hands. In short, we render a service to others rather than produce a product of our own.
This means, of course, that labor is the biggest component of our sales dollars, and that competition in our business is really the productivity of our people against the productivity of the employees in competing plants. Thus a high degree of skill is very important, and expensive and modern machinery is necessary. We have been leaders in keeping our equipment up to date. As an example, we have one of the largest installations of the new type of sheet-fed rotary presses in the country. Only one other plant exceeds it. It is interesting to note that pre-war the most expensive book press available was priced at about $20,000. Last July we installed one that cost nearly S250.000. Truly we are in a period of change.”